|Publication number||US6463137 B1|
|Application number||US 09/316,042|
|Publication date||Oct 8, 2002|
|Filing date||May 21, 1999|
|Priority date||May 21, 1999|
|Also published as||WO2000072570A2, WO2000072570A3|
|Publication number||09316042, 316042, US 6463137 B1, US 6463137B1, US-B1-6463137, US6463137 B1, US6463137B1|
|Inventors||Govind W. Vanjani, David Wilkie|
|Original Assignee||Geo-Group Communications, Inc.|
|Export Citation||BiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan|
|Patent Citations (3), Referenced by (11), Classifications (6), Legal Events (8)|
|External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet|
The invention relates to telephonic communications. More particularly, the invention relates to a method and device for toll-free telephonic communications.
Toll-free long distance telephonic communications is presently expensive and awkward. Traditionally, toll-free telephone calls required the assistance of a human operator to seek authorization by the called party to accept the call and its accompanying charges. More recently, toll-free callers have been required to dial special prefixes to access less costly toll-free long distance services. Calling cards, whether prepaid to a fixed amount or subject to periodic billing, although not directly providing toll-free calling, can be used to shift the cost of long distance calls from a caller to an intended recipient of calls when the intended recipient of calls gives a calling card to the caller. However, a disadvantage of using a calling card gift as a cost shifting mechanism is that the intended recipient of calls (i.e., the giver) loses control of the gift, because the caller (i.e., the gift recipient) is free to call others using the calling card.
According to a method of the present invention, a caller dials a telephone number, which is preferably a toll-free number, to establish a connection with a telecommunications platform. The caller then enters a authorization code that the telecommunications platform validates. If the authorization code is valid, the telecommunications platform can connect the caller to a called party or record a message by the caller for later retrieval by the called party.
As contrasted with conventional toll-free calling, the present invention offers a toll-free telephonic communications service that has the potential to be more economical, may provide enhanced services, and better accomplishes cost shifting.
The foregoing advantages of the present invention, together with other benefits which may be attained by its use, will become more apparent upon reading the following detailed description of a preferred embodiment of the presnet invention taken in conjunction with the following drawings:
FIG. 1 is a diagram of an end-to-end call connection according to the present invention.
FIG. 2 is a flowchart of a method according to the present invention.
FIG. 3 is a block diagram of a proprietary telecommunications platform (PTP).
FIG. 1 is a diagram illustrating an end-to-end connection of a toll-free call according to the present invention. A caller's phone 105 and a phone 110 of a called party or “owner,” who is a call or message recipient, are connected via a telecommunications platform, such as a proprietary telecommunications platform (PTP) 115. Any telecommunications platform, such as a private branch exchange (PBX), switching center or local exchange office, may perform the same functions as the PTP 115, but a separate, proprietary platform is preferred. FIG. 1 illustrates the most direct route between the caller's phone 105 and the owner's phone 10, in that only a single PTP is present between the caller's phone 105 and the owner's phone 110. However, in the more general case, the single PTP maybe a network of interconnected PTPs. In such a case, a connection between the caller's phone 105 and the owner's phone 110 is established or routed according to well known techniques of circuit switching, packet switching or some combination.
Although, the caller's phone 105 is referred to as a “phone” for ease of explanation, one skilled in the art would readily appreciate that the caller's phone 105 could be any telephonic device, such as, for example, a modem, facsimile, or PBX. Likewise, although the owner's phone 110 is referred to as “phone,” one skilled in the art would readily appreciate that the owner's phone 105 could be any communication device.
FIG. 2 is a flow chart of a method 200 according to the present invention. The method 200 is implemented by the PTP 115. According to the method 200, an answering step 205 is first executed, whereby the PTP 115 receives and answers an incoming toll-free call from the caller's phone 105. After receipt of the toll-free call, a welcoming step 210 is performed, whereby an introductory message, preferably short in duration, is played for the caller. The brief welcome message may, for example, identify the proprietor or service provider of the method 200. Next, a requesting step 215 requests that the caller enter an authorization code. The authorization code, which is also referred to as a personal identification number (PIN), may be any sequence of telephone keypad characters. In a preferred embodiment, the authorization code is equivalent to the phone number of the owner's phone 110, for convenient reference or memorization. After receiving an authorization code entered by the caller, a validation step 220 is performed. The validation step 220 checks whether the entered authorization code is valid, e.g., by searching within a list of valid authorization codes or detecting a unique checksum or syndrome of the code. If the authorization code entered by the caller is not valid, then a re-requesting step 225 is executed, whereby the caller is prompted again to enter the authorization code. If the authorization code is found to be valid, then a prompting step 230 prompts the caller to sound the caller's name or identification so that it may be recorded. Next, a holding step 235 places the caller on hold while a contacting step 240 contacts the owner's phone 110. After successfully calling the owner, the method 200 preferably performs a name playing step 245, whereby the caller's recorded name or identification is played to the owner. At this point, the owner may decide to accept or reject the call from the caller. A reacting step 250 assesses the owner's directive as to whether to accept or reject the call. If the owner elects to accept the call, then a connecting step 255 connects the toll-free call from the caller to the owner, thus establishing an end-to-end connection. A logging and charging step 260 logs one or both legs of the call, records the duration of the call and charges the call to the owner or other party responsible for payment. The method of charging may be billing by invoice or debiting from a pre-paid account. Upon completion of the call, a disconnecting step 265 disconnects both legs of the end-to-end call.
If the owner elects to reject the call from the caller, then a rejecting step 270 is performed. According to the rejecting step 270, one or more of several courses of action may be taken. A first rejection option is to inform the caller that the owner is not available. A second rejection option is to record a message by the caller for later retrieval by the owner. The method 200 may first prompt the caller to determine whether the caller wishes to leave a message in this case.
An alternative to the method 200 is a dedicated messaging method. In this alternative, the prompting step 230, the holding step 235, the contacting step 240, the name playing step 245, the reacting step 250, the connecting step 255, and the rejecting step 270 are replaced by a single messaging step. According to this messaging step, the caller simply records a message which is delivered to the owner (e.g., by email with a sound file attachment) or stored by the PTP 115 for later retrieval by the owner.
Dissemination of an authorization code by the owner to a caller may be accomplished in a variety of manners. In one form, the owner may simply, in any manner, inform the caller of the authorization code and toll-free phone number used to access the PTP 115. In another form, the owner may give to the caller a calling card, such as a credit card style calling card, on which is printed or magnetically encoded the authorization code and/or toll-free phone number to one or more PTPs. Such a calling card may be prepaid to a certain amount or may be subject to periodic billing by invoice. In yet another form, the owner may provide to the caller a dedicated telephone such as a cellular or wireless telephone. Such a dedicated telephone is preprogramed only with the capability to call one or more PTPs (i.e., a single call button rather than a numeric key pad for dialing). Thus, the caller with such a dedicated telephone may only call the owner. Such a dedicated telephone may be constructed or programmed so as to automatically provide the correct authorization code upon connection to the PTP 115.
In another alternative embodiment, the requesting step 215, the validating step 220, the re-requesting step 225, and perhaps the prompting step 230 are replaced by a caller authorization step using caller ID or ANI (automatic number identification) technology. According to this alternative, the owner or other responsible party registers one or more caller telephone numbers with the PTP 115. The PTP maintains a database of registered caller numbers. Each registered number in the database is associated with an owner. When the PTP 115 receives a tollfree call, caller ID or ANI circuitry determines the calling or originating number of the caller's phone 105. If the calling number matches an entry in the database of registered caller numbers, then the holding step 235 and contacting step 240 are executed. The contacting step 240 automatically contacts the registered owner on the basis of stored contact information (e.g., the phone number of the owner's phone 110). In this case, the prompting step 230 is optional because the caller's name/identification may be pre-recorded and stored as part of the entry for that registered caller's number in the database. The exploitation of caller ID or ANI information, as well as other aspects of this alternative embodiment, are described in greater detail in patent application Ser. No. 09/392,474, entitled “Telephone Switching System,” which is hereby incorporated by reference.
An inherent limitation of the alternative embodiment just described is that a given caller's phone 105 is capable of calling only one party (namely the owner's phone 110 to which the caller's number is linked in the database of registered caller numbers). To overcome this limitation, an overriding step and/or a selection step may be taken. According to an overriding step, the PTP 115 pauses briefly before automatically contacting the registered owner. During this brief pause, the calling party may begin entering an authorization code or press a key that signifies to the PTP 115 that an authorization code is about to be entered. Then, the validating step 220, re-requesting step 225 (if necessary), and subsequent steps of the method 200 are executed, in which case the call is to the “owner” of the PIN/authorization code, rather than the registered “owner” of calls from the caller's phone 105. In a similar manner, a selecting step provides flexibility to the caller. When a selecting step is provided, a caller who is registered for “automatic” contact to multiple owners, is presented, after caller authorization on the basis of caller ID or ANI, with the opportunity to select which registered owner to contact. After selection, the communication proceeds according to the method 200 beginning at the prompting step 230 or the holding step 235.
FIG. 3 is an internal block diagram of the PTP 115. The PTP 115 comprises a switch 305 that is used to connect telephone connections 308 (preferably toll-free) to owner connections 310. The owner connections could interface to any communication channel, such as, for example, telephonic channels, the Internet, or private connections wired or wireless. An authorization module 315 functions to validate authorization codes. A control module 320, which may or may not be part of the authorization module 315, operates to control the operation of the authorization module 315, the switch 305 and other components of the PTP 115. A memory 325 is utilized to store messages including welcome messages, recorded messages for owners, callers name/identification, etc. The memory 325 is also used to hold instructions and data to control the operation of the PTP 115. Finally, the memory 325 is used to hold a database of valid authorization codes and/or registered originating phone numbers of callers as well as a database of logged calls and charges associated with such calls. When the PTP 115 performs message storage, an owner retrieves messages via the owner connections 310 preferably, although retrieval via the telephone connections 308 is also possible.
The terms and descriptions used herein are set forth by way of illustration only and are not meant as limitations. In particular, although a method of the present invention has been described with reference to FIG. 2, the steps of the method may be performed in a different order than illustrated or steps may be performed simultaneously. Furthermore, although a device of the present invention has been described with reference to specific hardware in FIG. 3, the elements of present inventive device may be implemented as hardware, firmware, software or some combination. Those skilled in the art will recognize that these and other variations are possible within the spirit and scope of the invention as defined in the following claims and their equivalents.
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|U.S. Classification||379/114.26, 379/127.03|
|Cooperative Classification||H04M2215/62, H04M15/08|
|Oct 30, 2001||AS||Assignment|
|Apr 26, 2006||REMI||Maintenance fee reminder mailed|
|May 12, 2006||FPAY||Fee payment|
Year of fee payment: 4
|May 12, 2006||SULP||Surcharge for late payment|
|Apr 2, 2010||FPAY||Fee payment|
Year of fee payment: 8
|May 16, 2014||REMI||Maintenance fee reminder mailed|
|Oct 8, 2014||LAPS||Lapse for failure to pay maintenance fees|
|Nov 25, 2014||FP||Expired due to failure to pay maintenance fee|
Effective date: 20141008